Earlier this month the regulations for recording marriages were changed; after centuries of pen and paper, it’s going digital. Rev Jo Richards of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter marked the occasion with this post and special prayers.
Marriage Registers: There are significant changes in the Registration of Marriages – this will no longer take place during the marriage ceremony – be it in a church/chapel/registry office or licensed venue. Rather the couple will sign a Marriage Document (or Schedule) during the service. This is returned by the minister who conducts the service within 21 days, to the General Registry Office (GRO) – it is from there that the couple have to get their marriage certificate and where the marriage is now electronically registered, rather than being given the certificate on the day. The marriage certificate is also somewhat different with the inclusion of mothers – since their inception in 1837 only father and father’s rank/profession were on the document. Now the mother’s details are included, along with their occupation. It was this that triggered the changes – along with the GRO going electronic.
Needless to say we have had training both by the GRO and CofE for marriages that will take place from today onwards. The other change is that the new certificate is portrait (previously landscape) and we can include up to 4 parents (e.g. step-parents) and 6 witnesses. We do however have to have a ‘register of marriage services’ book. This will be a special book, as we have for burials, baptisms and confirmations. This is just filled out by the minister, again as per other occasional offices.
This is also an historical moment, and I attach the prayers that I said in St Dunstan’s on Sunday, to acknowledge the closure of the two Registers there, and I will do likewise for both St Peter’s and St Mildred’s this coming Sunday. We are permitted to keep one Register in church for historical reasons, and the other returns to the GRO. We no longer provide replacement certificates, again all through the centralised GRO.
There is no change as far as Banns are concerned – what is called ‘marriage preliminaries’ remain the same, and the marriage service is the same – rather than ‘signing of the registers’ it will be ‘signing of the marriage document’ – and will be a lot quicker – one piece of paper rather than three! And we can still take photos!
At the Closing of the Marriage Registers
The duplicate register books are placed on view, with the blank entries struck through as required by law. This or similar might be read by the minister.
The Church has been closely involved in witnessing and solemnising marriages since the 11th century, and from the Reformation parishes were required to keep written record of all those married in their churches, a requirement formalised in Canon 70 of 1610, which remained in force until the 18th century. The Marriage Act 1836 provided for the duplicate green register books with we are all so familiar, and whose use comes to an end today. For centuries it has been our privilege as a church, entrusted to us by the state, to keep these legal records of marriages. Herein have been recorded the acts of loving commitment made by successive couples, witnessed by their friends and family and recorded on their behalf by our clergy. In years to come the legal record of all marriages will be held nationally by the Registrar-General, but we shall still rejoice to welcome couples to marry here, and pray that God will bless and support them in their unions. Today we give thanks for the duty of record that has been ours.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Marriages
Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of love and remember the many men and women who have stood in this place to make their vows to one another, and whose names are written in these registers [and those before them]. We thank you for all the joy and fruitfulness born of their marriages. We remember: Those whose faithfulness was lifelong and who are now at rest. Those who were widowed and bore long grief, or who married again. Those whose marriages, begun in hope did not bring them joy, or which ended how they did not intend. We remember also the fathers, whose names are recorder here, and the mothers, whose names are not; the friends and relations who bore witness to the weddings, and the clergy who solemnised them. Give us grace to remember all that is past with thanksgiving and with love, committing to your care and healing sorrows which cannot now be changed in this world, but which will find peace through the grace of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Records
God of order and peace, we thank you for the means by which the turnings of our lives are faithfully recorded, and for those who keep the records with diligence. For the means they offer for truth-telling and justice, and the record of memory of generations past. As we prepare to commit these records to the archives, help us to leave the past in your care, and renew our trust in your changeless mercy, that brings us life and wholeness in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The register books are closed.
A Prayer for Marriages Yet To Come
Loving God, we pray for those who will come to this place to declare their love in time to come; for those planning weddings here in coming years, those whose love is yet unkindled and the generations still stored up in your bounty that they may live and love in the freedom of your creation. May this place be to them a sign that their earthly love is a sign of your eternal love, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that holds us in life until we come to the kingdom prepared for us in him.